As ESPN’s “The Last Dance” plays out over 10 episodes, the sentiment keeps getting expressed.
“If only Jerry Krause were here to speak for himself . . .”
Frayed relationships between Krause, who passed away at age 77 in 2017, and Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson have been detailed in the first two episodes. Footage sometimes shows Michael Jordan directing barbs at the general manager, who entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2017.
Krause also has received credit in the documentary, and he’s featured in various interview clips from his life. There’s also a narrative arc that needs to play out over the final eight episodes before Krause’s treatment in the film is fully assessed.
Whatever the case, Krause is here to speak for himself---through his writings.
Throughout 2007, Krause spent hours and hours writing his unpublished memoir. His wife, Thelma, came up with the title: “To Set The Record Straight.” Krause, showing the sense of humor he possessed that didn’t always make it to the forefront, originally had wanted to title it: “One Million National Anthems.”
Believe it or not, Krause at one point held designs to become a newspaperman. He served as a copy boy and junior editor at the defunct Chicago Herald-American while a student at Taft High School. He loved the writings of Mike Royko but had a revelation one day while working on the rewrite desk that he didn’t want to be mediocre at his life’s calling. He had such respect for Royko and legendary sportswriter Frank DeFord.
Krause found writing his memoir therapeutic. He’d call and read me passages during the many phone conversations we shared over the final 14 years of his life. Occasionally, we’d meet for lunch.
After covering him as general manager for six seasons for the Chicago Tribune, I reported and wrote two detailed stories for the Tribune about Krause’s life and background in 2012 and 2016. I followed him in Wilmington, Del., on a baseball scouting assignment for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He drove me around to visit all the northwest side haunts from his childhood and proudly showed where his working-class parents’ businesses were.
His love for his city and the Bulls was palpable. His respect for work was immense. These qualities show up in his writings too.
With his family’s blessing, we’re honored each Monday to share select excerpts from Krause’s unpublished — and unfinished — memoir as “The Last Dance” unspools. Call it his side of the story.
Thelma Krause has received interview requests from all over the country since “The Last Dance” began. She has chosen not to talk for now, deferring to Jerry’s words instead.
They begin thusly:
Doing my own writing, not in the words of another writer, is unlike any book that any sports executive has ever done. It also gives me an opportunity to tell a story that will not include things that I believe should stay behind locker room doors.
Secondly, so much has been written about me that’s untrue and in many cases clouded at best. It’s a chance to tell my life story and the story of, if not the greatest sports team in American history, a team that stayed excellent over an eight-year span and did what none of its predecessors on the totem pole of greatness had to face — free agency and its star walking out in the middle of a career to go play another sport for two years.
It’s a chance for the kid who’s not a very good player and wants to stay in the game to read it and say, “Maybe, as improbable as what I’m reading happened, I can do it too.” One of my loves in past years was breaking in young scouts and executives in both baseball and basketball, of watching them grow just like players that a scout signs, of seeing them turn into quality pros. Maybe somewhere along the way what you’re about to read will touch some kid like I was touched.
Another reason for “why now?” is that enough time has expired from my leaving pro basketball and its environs to fully realize and comprehend what we were able to accomplish. While you’re winning and then trying to win again, time goes at the speed of light. You don’t have time to sit back and break it down or, for more than a few minutes, enjoy it. You’re always concerned with the next season and the next game and winning again. Your life, or mine did, spins like a top and you can’t jump off for awhile and stop to see where you’ve been.
The reason this book took shape over a 50-year period were the players and scouts and general managers and owners I’ve known and worked with over those years. As much as this is my story and the story of a basketball dynasty, it’s their story. Thank you to them.
Coming Monday: Excerpts from Krause on Dennis Rodman and Bulls’ longtime strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.